DeKALB, Ill. – Freshman Justin Ruckman (Kankakee/Herscher) threw a two-hit complete game, Northern Illinois’ second such performance of the season, as the Huskies (17-22, 12-4 MAC) defeated Miami (Ohio), 3-1. It was NIU’s seventh complete game of the season and the first of Ruckman’s career. He completed the game with two hits, one earned run, two walks and five strikeouts.
“Energy, enthusiasm and good defense can go a long way in this game and I think that’s exactly how it played out today,” said Head Coach Ed Mathey, “Jordan Ruckman was outstanding. He was in the zone and had command of his fastball. Through the middle innings, he started snapping off his breaking ball well and saved himself enough pitches to have some things at the end of the game to finish. I’m very proud and happy for him.
“I thought our defense, with the exception of one play, was very clean for us especially at the end of the game with Jamison Wells diving and Alex Klonowski going vertical. Those were great plays for us,” closed Mathey.
The Huskies came out in the second inning against Redhawk (19-21, 9-7 MAC) pitcher Brooks Fiala, who entered the game ranked 18th in the country in strikeouts with 73. After two straight pop outs in the swirling winds at Ralph McKinzie Field, Joe Battaglia singled to start a rally, which eventually led to a bases loaded situation with Jamison Wells at the plate.
On a 0-1 pitch, Wells slapped a ball to the shortstop and outran the throw to first to score Battaglia. Tommy Hook followed suit as he hit a high chopper that bounced over the mound and to the second baseman, who was unable to throw out Wells at the bag to give NIU a 2-0 lead. A double clutch error by the shortstop on a throw to second scratched Nate Ruzich across home plate to give the Huskies a 3-0 lead.
Mathey added, “from an energy standpoint, all of our runs were the result of two outs and with nobody on base to start the rally. Joe gets the hit, we get a couple more guys on and Jamison beats a throw at first base, beats another force play at second and then Tommy Hook beats a force out at second. Any of those things don’t happen and we don’t get those runs in the inning. That’s what we needed, energy and enthusiasm.”
Ruckman continued to post zeros from the rubber, holding runners who reached base and putting balls in play that allowed the field to work. Through seven innings, the freshman had only surrendered one hit.
A leadoff triple by Jake Romano in the eighth inning put Miami in scoring position for only the third time in the game. A groundout to first base by Nate Bowles gave the Redhawks their only run of the game to make it a 3-1 game.
Ruckman finished the game with a 1-2-3 ninth as he struck out the first batter and was aided with a pair of phenomenal grabs by Wells in centerfield and Klonowski at second base. Wells charged a dying quail and made an extended diving catch to record the second out. Klonowski finished the game off as Scott Slappey hit a hard, high line drive towards right centerfield that Klonowski launched himself at to end the game.
Ruckman threw 120 pitches with 77 strikes in the effort (.642). Klonowski threw a two-hit complete game March 3 at Minnesota to lead the NIU to a 2-1 victory.
The Huskies approach at the plate was the best of the season against a pitcher ranked in the top-30 in the NCAA in strikeouts as Northern Illinois only struck out three times with Fiala on the mound. NIU fanned 10 times versus Nevada’s Braden Shipley, nine times versus Kent State’s Taylor Williams and 12 times versus Central Michigan’s Jordan Foley, all Friday starters.
The top of the Huskies order, Wells, Hook and Klonowski, each finished 2-for-5 with an RBI with Battaglia, Ruzich and Brian Sisler accounting for NIU’s runs.
Northern Illinois and Miami will play game two of the series tomorrow afternoon at 1:05 p.m. Eli Anderson (6-3), who’s won his last five starts on the mound, will face the Redhawks Mac Thoreson (2-6).